Part of your Idaho Catholic Appeal donations go to support the Diocese’s Office of Child, Youth and Young Adult Protection, which trains thousands of parish and school employees and volunteers.
by Gene Fadness
Since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” nearly 20 years ago, dioceses across the United States have aggressively conducted training programs and background checks for church employees, teachers and volunteers in an ongoing effort to reduce child abuse.
The Diocese of Boise’s program, funded largely by the Idaho Catholic Appeal, has continued even during the last year when the COVID-19 pandemic made large-group, in-person training sessions impossible.
For example, during the year before COVID, the Diocese’s Office of Child, Youth and Young Adult Protection conducted 250 workshops and trained 1,532 new employees and volunteers, according to Veronica Childers, the office coordinator.
Since COVID, workshops decreased to 148 with 413 trained, but Childers anticipates those numbers will increase again beginning this fall. In the mean-time, online training programs are available for those receiving training for the first time as well as those renewing their training, a requirement by the Diocese if volunteers want to continue in ministry to children and young adults.
The purpose of the training, according to the Diocese’s website, www.catholicidaho.org/safe-enviornment is to equip church employees and volunteers to better understand the problem of child abuse, thus enabling homes, parishes and schools to create a safe environment for youths and children.
Even children are trained. The Diocese uses the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Circle of Grace curriculum to educate and empower children to actively participate in creating a safe environment for themselves and those around them.
Circle of Grace is tailored for all ages from kindergarten through 12th-grade, teaching young people how to dialogue with others if they have concerns about how they are treated or how others around them are treated. Children choose a trusted adult, other than a parent, with whom they can dialogue.(The vast majority of child abusers are immediate family members or someone who is a close friend or relative.)
“This is not a sex education program,” Childers emphasizes. “We leave that up to parents. We are not sex educators.” Instead, the program teaches children about “grooming” and inappropriate contact. “The program gives children the confidence to come to a trusted adult if they have concerns or fears,” she said. “Grooming” is the term to describe the steps an abuser will take to win a child’s trust and friendship with the idea of gaining time alone with the child or young adult.
Parents are made aware of what their children are being taught and can request a copy of the curriculum at any time, Childers said.
THE U.S. CONFERENCE of Catholic Bishops requires that every parish and school offer the training and conduct background checks. To ensure that is being done, dioceses are audited yearly, including an on-site visit from USCCB representatives once every three years. The Diocese of Boise will receive its next on-site audit in September of this year.
The results of the national audit, conducted by an independent firm not connected to the Church, are published each year on the USCCB website at usccb. org/topics/catholic-safeguards.
To comply with the national audit, Childers’ office conducts at least one audit a year of every parish and school to ensure that new employees and volunteers are trained and submit to background checks, and that existing employees and volunteers renew their training.
Parishes and schools must report employees and volunteers who work with children and young adults and how many have received their training or renewed their training. Once Childers compiles that information, she submits it to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Childers, who has worked in the Office of Child, Youth and Young Adult Protection since 2013, has trained 114 volunteers who then conduct training in parishes and schools across the Diocese. Of the more than 7,000 active employees and volunteers in the Diocese, 6,734, or about 90 percent are up-to-date in their training, Childers said. “Even with COVID, people are still complying.”
Childers is also in the midst of a revision of some of the topics covered in the training, the first revision since 2016. She solicits ideas from evaluations she gets from participants, some of whom are doctors, professional counselors and police officers. “We are always looking for ways to better help our kids,” she said.
Changing times call for the periodic revisions, Childers said. For example, more and more young people are exposed to internet pornography and online bullying. She notes suicide ideation among kids at ever-younger ages.
“We’re also looking at ways to help parents learn more about what their kids are talking about on their cell phones, understanding the acronyms and the emojis,” Childers said. “The internet and cell phones are not going to go away. Some kids as young as 8 are on cell phones. Parents need to place safeguards on them to protect their children,” she said.
Childers is also expanding the Safe Environment Training program in Idaho’s growing Hispanic community. (See other stories page 7.) More Hispanic parishioners are being trained and online and website materials are being translated into Spanish.
Part of the outreach to Hispanic communities is calming fears that innocent parties won’t be deported if they report suspected child abuse. “We don’t want to do anything to discourage anyone from reporting suspected child abuse,” Childers said.
CHILDERS’ OFFICE is also working with Deacon Sal Carranza, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, to create a training program for youth ministers to better equip them to deal with young people who approach them in a crisis situation.
“Our youth ministers need to know what to do and what not to do in a situation like that,” Childers said. “When do we call a professional, when do we call the parents, when do we call the authorities? Youth ministers need to know these things,” she said, noting that often a young person will approach a youth minister before approaching parents.
Even young adults who are not youth ministers, but who assist adults in programs like Vacation Bible School need to be trained, Childers said.
Adults are mandated by law to report any suspected cases of child abuse to law enforcement, but teen-agers, do not face the same requirement.
“However, there is a strong possibility that a teen-ager helping in ministry may be approached by a younger child who feels more comfortable talking to the youth volunteer rather than an adult,” Childers said. “Our young volunteers need to know what to do in a situation like that.”
Childers’ office deals only with training. She is not responsible for handling cases of suspected child abuse. The Diocese has a review board that investigates allegations against a clergy member, church employee or volunteer.
TO CHURCH MEMBERS weary of reading secular media reports of child abuse within the Catholic Church, the larger question may be: Is all this working? Are the countless hours of training and auditing resulting in fewer allegations?
According to StoneBridge Business Partners, the independent firm that issues an annual compliance audit for the USCCB, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
The most recent national audit issued in 2020 and covering Calendar Year 2019 cited 37 allegations of current-year minors alleging abuse by priests. Eight of those substantiated by year’s end with the priests involved removed from ministry. Those 37 allegations – some involving the same priest – come from a total of 37,000 diocesan and religious order priests.
“Of course, every case is one too many, and we remain vigilant and determined to prevent this evil,” said Archbishop José Gomez, USCCB president.
The 2019 audit year showed a slight increase in total allegations over recent years, both adult and minor, to 4,434. However, more than than a third of these are from the 1940s and beyond that can now be brought due to state laws removing statutes of limitations and also as a result of the recent settling of lawsuits, compensation programs and bankruptcies.
Decades ago, the Church in the United States and worldwide and almost all other organizations handling allegations of child abuse treated pedophilia (abuse of children) and ephebophilia (abuse against post-pubescent adolescents) as a “moral fault,” that could be treated. Thus, the practice in the Catholic Church and in other denominations of sending clergy for treatment and then, believing them to be “cured,” sending them back into ministry.
Beginning in the 1980s and onward, professionals began to view pedophilia and ephebophilia as psychiatric disorders that, while in some cases may be kept under control, can never be “cured” by weeks or months in a treatment facility.
Once the practice of quietly moving priests to serve in other parishes ended, the number of allegations dropped markedly. In fact, the cases began to drop even before the notorious Archdiocese of Boston cases were brought to light.
A 2011 report by the John Jay College Research Team found that the number of priests with allegations from 1950 through 2002 was 4,392 out of a total of 109,694 priests, or about 4 percent of priests in ministry. (The overall rate for abuse in the United States during the same period was also about 4 percent.) The same report says the total number of accusations of sexual abuse of a minor by a Catholic priest fell from 975 in 1985-89, to 253 from 1995 through 1999, to 73 from 2004 to 2008.
It remains true today that the vast majority of allegations made in the United States and even in the world-wide Church stem from cases decades in the past, not current allegations.
While the Church must continue to accept responsibility for decades-old cases and especially for the victims who carry the wounds of abuse for their entire lives, it is important for Church members to distinguish the difference between current and past cases, especially when reading reports by secular media.
If the number of current allegations were to show the same trends as years ago, then the preventive efforts now underway in the Church could not be considered to be effective. However, annual independent audits conducted by the USCCB since the 2002 Dallas Charter show a continued, encouraging downward trend in the number of current-year allegations.
“While we readily acknowledge our sins of the past, the media continue to make priesthood synonymous with pedophilia when, in fact, this is a global problem involving all organizations who interact with children,” said Bishop Peter Christensen in 2018 statement.
“If one out of four girls and one in six boys are abused in our society today and if, as some claim, a large number of priests who abuse minors were abused themselves as children, then we have a societal problem, not solely, as the press would lead you to believe, a Catholic Church problem,” Bishop Peter stated. “Let’s begin to change the narrative and tell the truth. Doing so will encourage more victims to get the help they need.”
The 2019 Stonebridge audit stated said sexual abuse of minors is a significant societal issue.
It cited estimates by RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest Network) that there are about 60,000 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse annually in the United States.
Those who suspect abuse by clergy or Church employees or volunteers are asked to call Pat at 208-488-8263. The number for the State of Idaho’s Child Protection hotline is 1-855-552-5437. The Diocese is required to report credible claims of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.
Safe Environment Training expands in Hispanic community
Diocese does not reveal information to immigration or Social Security offices
by Vero Gutierrez
The Diocese of Boise, through its Office of Child, Youth and Adult Protection trains employees, volunteers and parents in methods to provide a safe environment for our children. Currently, there are 114 certified trainers in the Diocese, most of them volunteers who train people in how to provide Safe Environment Training in their parishes or schools. Fourteen of these volunteers are Spanish speakers.
“Ideally, every parish that has a Hispanic community should have a Spanish-speaking trainer to offer in-person training in the language that our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters understand so that they can engage in dialogue, and share their experiences while volunteering at their parish,” said Veronica Childers, coordinator of the Office of Child, Youth and Adult Protection.
It is especially important that His-panic families receive adequate information to avoid situations where they may not report suspected child abuse because of their immigration status, Childers said. “In the Hispanic community, if there is a child who has been abused, they sometimes do not want to involve others because they have fear family separation or deportation in the cases of those who do not have legal immigration status,” she said.
“If there are problems in the fam-ily, we want to fix it ourselves and we don’t expect to receive help,” Childers said. “This is one of the most common attitudes among Hispanic families that can prevent them from receiving the help they need,” she said.
Childers emphasized that the Diocese of Boise does not separate families and does not give its reports to immigration offices or to Social Security.
“Many people are unaware of their rights and of the many services avail-able to them, especially if they are victims of abuse,” Childers said.
Idaho state law requires that suspected cases of child abuse – sexual abuse, hitting or malnutrition – must be reported.
Catholic Charities of Idaho provides low-cost professional help for families needing counseling in these areas. The agency has immigration professionals who can help migrants obtain legal status.
Childers stresses the importance of prevention of child abuse, which is why the diocese provides Safe Environment Training and performs background checks on employees and volunteers. However, 90 percent of abuse suffered by children comes from a relative or someone already in the “inner circle” of the family, she stated. The Safe Environment Training helps both children and adults recognize signs of abuse.
Everyone who wishes to volunteer or work in a parish in a ministry that serves children up through grade 12 or vulnerable adults and all school employees must undergo a background check and complete the safe environment training during the first year
of activity in ministry. Not having a Social Security number does not disqualify a person from volunteering at a parish or school, though they cannot be employed without a valid Social Security number.
Training is renewed annually. During the second year, employees and volunteers participate in online training through CMGConnect.org, the online training portal provided by Catholic Mutual Group.
In the third year and beyond, employees and volunteers watch one of several videos as part of their annual renewal process. Both face-to-face and online training are offered in English and Spanish.
Training is offered for children (K-12) through a program called Circle of Grace. The program helps children learn how to dialogue with parents or a trusted adult when someone in their environment is making them feel uncomfortable. It also teaches children how to detect those times when adults are acting inappropriately.
Circle of Grace is also available in both English and Spanish.
Parents can request a complete copy of their child’s grade-level curriculum in Circle of Grace at any time, in both English and Spanish, by requesting a copy from the parish or school administration office.
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